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International Women in Engineering Day 2021

In honor of Women in Engineering Day this month, we talk to two of our engineers, Courtney and Zam, to learn what it’s like to work in such a male-dominated field.

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It’s no secret that men have taken up space in the business world for decades, but as things continue to change for the better, some fields remain predominantly male, like software engineering and computer science. Thanks to many female trailblazers, this is starting to change, but that doesn’t make entering the field any less intimidating.

In honor of this year’s international women in engineering day, we hope this article serves as a reminder that there are plenty of opportunities for women and young girls looking to pursue a career in the field. Continue reading to hear about our very own talented women on the Trust & Will development team: Courtney Mohr and Zam Montoya and their unique experiences as women in engineering.

How did you choose engineering as a career path?

Courtney:

"I began building websites, modding games and writing hacky little scripts in the early 2000s as a side hustle to supplement my lunch money, but didn't take it seriously until after I graduated college with a degree in design. A project came up at the agency I was working for that required someone with frontend knowledge and it felt like it was meant to be. I'd been dissuaded from getting into any career that was too logic-heavy or required a decent understanding of mathematics by teachers in the past, so realizing that this wasn't just a silly hobby and that I was capable was my 'aha!' moment." 

Zam:

"At a young age, I was a tinkerer, creator, and dreamer. I had a K’NEX set (not sure if those are still around) and I had so much fun putting it together. I spent a lot of time thinking about why things were the way they were and how I could make them better. When I was older, I thought I wanted to be a cinematographer or philosophy professor. In middle school and high school, I started to build websites and continued to do that even when the aforementioned possible careers didn’t pan out. I continued doing web development and learning JavaScript while I worked in positions that weren’t directly engineering-related. One day, it hit me that I should be doing it as a career and went back to school to study full stack engineering."

What does a typical day look like for you?

Courtney:

"I like to start my days early and get some me-time in with code to get some quick wins before stand-up. After stand-up, I tend to spend the first half of my days in various meetings which can range from participating in additional scrum ceremonies like grooming or sprint planning, discovery brainstorms with product, 1:1s with team members, paired programming to get through blockers, etc. Around noon, I spend a bit of time playing with my dogs outside, cooking lunch, and maybe getting some tutorial videos. The latter half of my days tend to be more of a focused time for bigger, feature work."

Zam:

"First things first, coffee. We have our engineering stand-up first thing in the morning, where we talk about what we’re working on and if we have anything blocking our progress as a team. Up next are meetings with other teams, colleagues, or an all-hands meeting with the entire organization depending on the day. Afterward, I check our ticketing system to look at the tasks I will be tackling that day; I choose the ticket based on the priority level assigned to it and get to work! I have my IDE (Integrated Development Environment) open and start coding.

"I code throughout the day or do research and planning for the task I’ve been assigned as preparation to code it at a later point in time. I review other developers’ code when they submit a Pull Request (PR) and provide guidance and feedback to my peers. I collaborate with my teammates on how to do certain tasks and vice-versa. Coding isn’t such an isolated activity as it might present itself! There’s certainly plenty of collaboration involved to get code into production (the live site)."

Have you faced any challenges as a woman in engineering?

Courtney:

"At nearly every company I've worked at, I've started as the only woman on the team. While not being an issue on its own, it does mean that having an advocate for you when you're newer to the industry can be tough. Early on in my engineering career, I ended up discovering at several jobs that I was paid significantly less than my male counterparts. Thanks to several male mentors I've had over the years, I've learned to get comfortable talking about money, as well as understanding the value of my skill set. The more comfortable you become, the less difficult it is to negotiate. 

"The longer I've been doing this, the more I've realized that even though the number of women starting their career paths in engineering is growing, there aren’t many women in leadership positions. This is a complex issue to unpack on its own, but it can feel lonely at times when your peers or managers can't relate as directly to your experiences. One thing I really appreciate at Trust & Will is our speaker series that brings in female tech leaders to join us for Zoom lunches where we can talk to and learn from people who not only know of, but can understand these things. Representation really matters."

Zam:

"It can be disheartening at times to not see other people like me in the field, but it compels me to keep going–not only for myself, but also as a testament to the world that I am allowed to exist in this space and be heard, along with others who look like me or identify as I do. To the women reading this: you are welcome and we’re waiting for you to make your debut! And to the women already in this field: thank you. You showing up everyday allows others to show up, too. You’re an inspiration to so many just by being you."

What do you love most about what you do? 

Courtney:

"Mentorship. What I lacked the most early on was leaders who really cared about me as a person succeeding in my professional goals and development. When I finally found those people who took me under their wings, it changed my life. Now, I want to be the person that younger me needed in those tough situations for a new generation of engineers."

Zam:

"I love creating things that contribute to making the world a better place. A feature that helps people, fixing an outstanding bug, an internal tool for developers or other teams. Whatever it may be, if it helps someone else, I’m ecstatic and happy to be a part of it."

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?

Courtney:

"Personally, teaching myself how to code and finding this path. Investing in myself and learning to overcome preconceived notions while powering through the industry when it was still a bit of a new frontier in a lot of ways has led to a fulfilling career.

"Professionally, I recently had the opportunity to build a frontend automating website app I've been dreaming about architecturally for several years now. and getting to see it become a reality, serve other teams here at Trust & Will, and to watch other developers add their own ideas has been incredibly satisfying. It's also gotten the gears turning on how we can use some of the takeaways in other parts of our code to create more user-friendly, holistic experiences."

Zam:

"Continuously learning and not stopping. Each day is a new day to accomplish 'small' and 'big' wins. I love being able to advocate for the future of our team and the plans we have in place to make Estate Planning accessible to all. Showing up each day authentically at work and in my personal life is a big accomplishment, as it invites others to show up authentically, too–that’s the type of environment I want to foster and grow."

What are your plans for the future?

Courtney:

"I love investing in my team members and helping them chart courses to reach their own goals. I also enjoy the planning side of my job, taking tasks from product and working with the team to break things down and establish project scopes. In the future, I'd like to continue developing these skills and pursue more leadership opportunities in tech here at Trust & Will as we continue to grow. Adopting another dog is also up there in my list of plans for the future, too."

Zam:

"Right now I’m just thinking about what I’m gonna eat for lunch! The future is unwritten, and that’s very exciting."

Do you have any advice for young girls who are considering engineering as a career? 

Courtney:

"Engineering has become a completely different world from when I got my start. Bootcamps have lowered the barrier of entry and let you streamline a path toward your interests, companies value diversity and inclusion instead of it being an afterthought, and talented individuals can choose how they want their career to fit into their life. 

"Because of market saturation, you'll need to find ways to stand out against your peers rather than counting on your course projects alone to get noticed. As a hiring manager, I love seeing engineers that use what they learn to solve for things they've encountered in their own lives because it shows that you can not only write code, but you understand how to make code work for you. Tailoring your resume will help you attract the opportunities you want and also help hiring managers and recruiters identify the skills you want them to see faster.

"Overall, I can't stress enough how fulfilling, stable, and empowering a career in engineering can be. The ability to bring things to life that can help people and improve their lives by writing code is an incredibly rewarding experience. With our reliance on technology as a society, quality engineers are high in demand, which means the stability is often unparalleled. If you're interested in engineering, give this path a shot. If you work hard and invest in yourself, it will pay off."

Zam:

"Focus on you and don’t compare yourself to others. It doesn’t matter where other people are on the engineering education and learning spectrum–it’s only about what you can do, what you can learn, and how you can grow. When you focus on yourself everything else will come into place. Also, don’t give up! You can take time to rest, but don’t give up. Keep at it; you can do this!"

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